Adult-business patron alleges civil rights violated by police

Wednesday, August 19, 1998

A man who sued the cities of Apopka and Orlando, Fla., after being stopped in his car while leaving an adult business has appealed the dismissal of his civil rights suit to a federal appeals court.


Daniel Meyvis alleges he was unlawfully stopped in December 1996 by agents of a multi-agency task force — the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation (M.B.I.) — merely for being a customer of an adult business, S.O.B.T. Live Shows.


After Meyvis exited the business, two M.B.I. officials pulled his car over and detained him for approximately 20 minutes. The officers informed Meyvis that Live Shows was under investigation and requested that he give a sworn statement of his activities at the club. One of the officers then interrogated him about what he had done at the club.


Meyvis admitted to the officers that he had masturbated at the club, but he was never charged with any crime or even with a civil complaint.


Meyvis subsequently sued in federal court, contending that the officers — one from the city of Orlando and the other from nearby Apopka — had violated his civil rights because they stopped his car for no reason other than he was seen exiting the adult business.


In Meyvis v. City of Apopka, the plaintiff contends the M.B.I. has engaged in the unconstitutional practice of targeting patrons of adult businesses for more than 20 years. In a brief filed with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Meyvis' attorney argues that “the evidence reveals that Mr. Meyvis had his constitutional rights violated simply because he patronized a business that was targeted by the M.B.I.”


The officers admitted they detained Meyvis solely to gather evidence on Live Shows, but they insisted that they had reasonable suspicion to stop him.


The M.B.I. argued it had reasonable suspicion to stop Meyvis because he fit a certain profile. However, Meyvis responded in court papers that he fit the “profile” solely because he was the patron of an adult business. One of the officers admitted during cross-examination at a hearing that he had no specific evidence that Meyvis had committed a crime at the club.


A federal trial judge dismissed the lawsuit last June, finding that the officers did not violate Meyvis' civil rights because they had reasonable suspicion to detain him. The judge wrote that the officers' ongoing investigation of Live Shows “gave rise to a 'reasonable suspicion' that Plaintiff (Meyvis) had engaged in unlawful masturbation” in violation of state and county law.


The judge concluded that “reasonable suspicion may be based upon a profile” and that “it is beyond reasonable dispute that they (the M.B.I. officers) did not violate any clearly established law in the particular context of detaining” Meyvis.


Although he agrees this is more squarely a Fourth Amendment search-and-seizure case, Meyvis' attorney, Steven Mason, insists it has important First Amendment implications, because he says it involves the targeting of adult businesses.


Mason said: “These government officials are trying to go through the back door by violating customers' Fourth Amendment rights to accomplish what they could not do through the First Amendment: Close the businesses down. The private-performance dancing that goes on these adult clubs is protected by the First Amendment.”


However, according to Bruce Bogan, the attorney representing the city of Orlando: “This case does not have anything to do with the First Amendment. The case of Daniel Meyvis involves the issue of whether police officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop of Mr. Meyvis,” he said. “The judge ruled that the officers' stop of Mr. Meyvis was constitutional under the Fourth Amendment.


“The government officials are not trying to shut down these adult businesses,” he said. “That is not their target.”


Mason responded: “If it has nothing to do with adult-entertainment businesses — which obviously implicate the First Amendment — then why are all these stops occurring only to patrons of adult businesses? I mean, government officials are not stopping the customers of commercial bingo halls. They are targeting the patrons of adult businesses.”